King County is poised to launch a pilot program designed to defuse potentially volatile interactions between police and people with mental illness or chemical dependency.
Beginning as early as the end of the month, a Mobile Crisis Team of mental health professionals will be on call to support law enforcement and emergency first responders.
The team will help mitigate a crisis in the moment. Then, they'll help to create a stabilization plan until further resources can be found. That plan could help direct a potential arrestee to treatment instead of jail.
Andrea LaFazia-Geraghty, a project manager with the county, said the pilot program is similar to another crisis diversion strategy used in Baylor County, Texas. That program helped reduce jail terms, she said.
The team will have the ability to schedule next-day appointments for the person, and will be able to transport any individual in need of medical attention or housing to local emergency rooms, shelter beds or a crisis respite program.
Law enforcement will be able to call on the team to help with situations that could arise when responding to 22 specific misdemeanors. Those crimes run the gamut from criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and marijuana possession, to theft of rental property, alcohol in the park and even prostitution. Transportation-related crimes would be covered as well, including unlawful bus/transit conduct, driving with a suspended license or not having a valid operator's license.
Individuals facing lower-level drug felonies could also benefit from the team's intervention, including those looking at charges of possessing less than one gram of cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine. Diversion of people facing these drug charges, however, would be based upon the discretion of the officer.
Anyone arrested for an offense that falls outside the determined 22 misdemeanors or low-level drug charges would not be eligible for intervention by the crisis team. People facing violent or sex-related offenses, along with those arrested for similar crimes in the past seven years, would also fall outside the scope of the crisis team's services.
A joint effort involving King County, local police and fire departments, and transit agencies, the team will consist of two on-call mental health professionals per shift and will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Downtown Emergency Services Center has contracted with the county's Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Action Plan to staff the team. The team will respond to calls issued by the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct (with headquarters on Pine Street and Twelfth Avenue); the Kent Fire Department; and the police departments of King County Metro and Sound Transit.
The team can only assist people 18 and over, and those who are not facing an acute medical crisis.